Monday, February 09, 2015

Standardized Testing--It's Not Just For Conservatives Anymore

On her blog today Joanne has two consecutive posts about liberal support for standardized testing.

I'm not a believer in "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", because I don't believe that it's impossible to find common ground with people not of my political stripe.  With the exception of Islamists and their ilk, I don't generally separate people into "for me" and "against me" camps.  There might not be a lot of common ground between me and the lefties, but I'm happy to find it where I can.

Her first post:
Now that school testing is unpopular, its enemies see it as “conservative,” writes Rick Hess. But, liberal reformers are the most enthusiastic advocates of testing, which they see as the way to close the “achievement gap.”
Her second:
The bipartisan campaign to roll back testing would “roll back progress” for students, argues Bellweather’s Chad Aldeman in the New York Times.

Improve test quality, he writes. (He thinks better tests are coming soon.) Cut back on time-wasting tests for benchmarking or teacher evaluations. But keep annual state exams to measure “how much students learn and grow over time.”

Grade-span testing — for example, testing only in fifth, eighth and 10th grade — would let many schools off the hook for the achievement of low-achieving subgroups, Aldeman writes.
I don't support testing because I think it will help identify and close the achievement gap; I'm glad it identifies that gap, and hope that transparency leads to improvements in student performance.  My overarching reason for support of good standardized testing is that it gives an objective evaluation of student achievement--all students. 

When the tests are bad, there's no reason to support them--because they can't provide valid information on student achievement.  When tests are used improperly, there's no reason to support them.  But it's not hard to find tests that are good and valid and that, when used as they're designed to be, serve as high justification for the efficacy of standardized testing.


maxutils said...

So, which of these standardized tests are the good ones? I haven't seen one, even the one I helped write. Aren't the teachers of the class giving objective measures to their students already?

Darren said...

Of course. All teachers are exactly the same and are equally as capable. They all have exactly the same standards, and there's no reason at all to have any outside agency evaluate student knowledge.

One wonders why the SAT and ACT even exist, no?

In addition to those, I like the MDTP. California's now-gone STAR math tests, pre-Algebra 2, were good. The Praxis math exams for potential math teachers were pretty good, too!

I don't know enough other tests to make a determination, but those listed above aren't bad.

maxutils said...

One does wonder why the SAT exists:

You could achieve almost exactly the same results by not making the kids take the test, and just asking for their family income and parental education level … but, that would be unfair, because of exceptions on both ends. The difference with those tests, though, is that they cost none and students care about the outcome. So they are likely to be fairly goo predictors.

On the other hand…you know we're going to disagree on this, but I'll still try to address your points. First, obviously, teachers have different standards; they also have different students. And the way you fix that is to police your own department. If someone passes a bunch of people on to a higher level who don't deserve it? You address their teaching, or testing, or grading. Second, if you just look at the tests you mentioned? And focus only on the questions? I'd agree with you, they are fair. If a bit easy.But I truly believe there is no, or at least very little place for MC questions in math -- especially when they are geared to have attractive answers which can result from a simple arithmetic error, and not, say, an algebra 2 error. So the person who has no clue has just as much chance of getting the answer right as the person who did a five part problem correctly until they added 2 and 3 and got 6. And third, the students have absolutely no incentive to perform. In fact, if they choose not to like a teacher, which is more likely in the case of strict, demanding teaches -- they have an incentive to tank the test to make the teacher look bad.

One thing I actually like about CC? The test questions for math with the larger number of answers, with nuance? Pretty good. But the curriculum and teaching methods are god-awful. I don't know the ePraxis test, but I do know that the test I took to receive my math certification was one of the hardest tests I've ever taken … and somehow I finished 95th percentile … but I don't even want to know what my score was, and like the AP, it had a substantial weight on four written problems.

Anonymous said...

"You could achieve almost exactly the same results by not making the kids take the test, and just asking for their family income and parental education level … but, that would be unfair, because of exceptions on both ends."

It would also be unfair to the kids in the middle. Even if the SAT scores for a *group* of, say, 10 thousand kids, can be predicted based on parents' income, the predictive value of individual kids will be quite weak (not non-existent, but weak). Schools accept and reject individual students, not large, homogeneous actuarial blocks.

-Mark Roulo

maxutils said...

Mark, I want to believe you … but did you look at the graphs? it's almost a straight linear correlation. And, I'm not suggesting that income predicts college aptitude: much more likely is that parents with high incomes are better educated themselves, have more stable home environments, value education more… which translates to better scores. And, of course there are individual factors -- really, I'm just criticizing the value of standardized tests in general. I'd love colleges to use more individualized results … but that's not always practical. But in the case of tests the student has no skin in the game for? But that the teacher does? The results are virtually meaningless. And I don't care how good the test is ...